Baseball Fandom: Where Is MLB Today?

Two baseball fanatics came together to discuss the future of the sport. AnnaRose Rubright spoke with Taylor’s COO and Managing Partner, Bryan Harris about their love for baseball, Gen Z fans, and the major changes in the league. Take a listen to their dynamic conversation… they hit it out of the park.

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Narrator  (00:00): Hey you, welcome to Shapers of Possibility - a Taylor Podcast, where we discuss and dissect the integrated worlds of marketing, innovation, pop culture, sports, and all of the possibilities in between.

We’re creating a unique space - for purpose, insightful debate, and growth. Join us.

AnnaRose Rubright (00:25): Hello and welcome to Shapers of Possibility - a Taylor Podcast. I'm AnnaRose, we are joined today by baseball Fanatic and Taylor, COO and managing partner Bryan Harris. Thanks for joining with me today Bryan.

Bryan Harris (00:47): Thank you Anna Rose. Really excited to talk baseball. My favorite sport, America's pastime and I'm thrilled to hear you're a baseball fan too. So let's get into the conversation.

AnnaRose Rubright (01:01): Bryan. I have always been a huge sports fan and I really enjoy baseball. I played softball as a little girl and I loved it. My favorite team, the Philadelphia Phillies and I was totally excited when they won the World Series back in 2008. I was just 12 years old. I still have some of the shirts and stuff from that great time I got to meet the Phillies Phanatic and some of the players over the years, and I have been to a lot of games. I always like Ryan Howard, but my favorite was Roy Halladay. Bryan, what do you like about baseball?

Bryan Harris (02:04): Well, that's going to be a multi-part answer because there's so many things I love about baseball. One of them is just talking to other baseball fans about baseball fans like yourself. You're a Phillies fan. I'm a Mets fan. The Mets and Phillies have a long history together because they've always been in the same division. I've been to a lot of ball games in my life. I've probably seen the Phillies more than any other team play. I was actually in school in Philadelphia in 1980 when the Phillies won their first world championship, and boy, that was really, really exciting. It was more exciting to the Phillies fans than it was for me. It was kind of difficult being a New Yorker in Philadelphia, but I knew how that was. Philly fans, they waited a long time for that World Series and I'm glad you got a chance to experience the World Series 29 years later with that great team with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, what a great pitching staff they had.

(03:02): I love talking about baseball with other fans. That's one thing. I love history. I love the history of the game. I don't think there's any sport that has such a rich story, colorful history as baseball, and I read a lot of books about baseball history. I just started reading a book about Babe Ruth by Jane Leavy. She wrote a great book about Mickey Mantle that I read, and a great book about Sandy Kofax to other of my baseball heroes. So I love baseball history, I love baseball stats. I like talking numbers. I'm not so much into sort of the modern day stats, which kind of almost took over the game and are just used almost incessantly by teams to manage the game. I understand why, but I'm more of an old school numbers guy. I used to pick up the baseball encyclopedia and just read it page after page, looking at players' stats, how many home runs this guy hit, or how many runs he drove in five years in a row.

(03:59): I mean, I just love sort of old school baseball stats, if you will. I think there's nothing I love more than just spending an afternoon or a nice summer evening at the ballpark. Just watching a game with friends. Baseball is the best game in the world to watch and talk about at the same time. It's hard to do that with football, basketball and hockey. The games are going so fast you can't take your eyes off the ball or the puck. But with baseball, you can just sit back and relax, watch the game, and just talk about your team, talk trivia, argue about who's a better pitcher or who's a better shortstop or just talk about anything in between. And I love that and I missed that. It was one of the things I missed last year, not going to a baseball game. It was the first time in more than 50 years that I didn't go to a ball game. Since the last time I didn't go to a ball game I was seven years old. So I'm looking forward to that. I'm planning on going back to a ball game, to a Mets game sometime this summer. I really look forward to that. There's nothing like being at the ballpark,

AnnaRose Rubright (05:04): Being a member of Gen Z, I don't have many peers who are interested in Major League baseball. Only 21% of Gen Z identify as baseball fans. How can Major League baseball build a stronger fan base with young fans?

Bryan Harris (05:22): Well, that's a great question and I think it's probably the most, really the most important question I think Major League Baseball has to answer in the next decade or so because your young fans are, that's the future of the game. That's the future of the core of your fan base. And unlike when I was growing up, young fans today, young consumers, have so many different options other than sitting in front of a television for three to four hours to watch a baseball game. And there are other sports that have really engaged with young fans for a variety of reasons, ranging from the way they market to the fans, to just the quality of the product and the type of product that appeals to young fans. And I'm talking about things like eSports and mixed martial arts, the NBA, women's sports, like women's soccer. I don't think there's one easy answer to that, but certainly Major League Baseball has to figure out how to engage better with fans through social media, through digital content.

(06:32): I think they've really lagged other sports like the ones I mentioned, like the NBA, like soccer, even NASCAR. I think MLB has to do a lot better. And when I say MLB, I also mean their teams, the teams and the way that they work with the players and encouraging and guiding the players to be more active on social media. But MLB really has to figure out how to better deliver content to the young fans in a way that they're consuming it. I think they're making progress, but they're going to have to make a lot of lot more progress so that 21% of Gen Z is double and triple in the next decade, otherwise that younger fan base, which is the future of the game, the future of your fan base is going to continue to erode. Another thing is just the game itself.

(07:21): Baseball, it's a long commitment. It's an entire evening or an entire afternoon. And even guys like me who have been a fan for more than half a century can get kind of anxious and antsy trying to sit through a game, especially when watching on tv. I know baseball has done a number of things to speed up the game, to make it a little more lively, and I think that's a good thing. I think overall baseball and the teams have done a great job building or renovating or revitalizing their stadiums to provide for a more engaging, more fun and dynamic experience in the ballpark, which is really, really important to keep fans engaged. So just getting fans to come out to the ballpark more often is really important. So those are some really big challenges. I think they're making it step by step, they're taking some steps in the right direction in terms of just watching the game, more exciting, engaging with the players on a more consistent basis in a more creative way. But there's no one thing they've, they've got to do all of that because building that younger fan base, like I said, over the next decade or more is critical to the future of the game.

AnnaRose Rubright (08:35): Last year, for the first time since 9/11, Major League baseball games were postponed indefinitely due to Covid 19 pandemic. With many delays in the schedule due to covid restrictions, the season was able to resume on July 23rd, 2020. This year, the MLB season is looking quite different from previous ones. This is the last season that the Cleveland team will be called the Indians. The All-Star game has been moved to Coors Field in Denver, Colorado instead of Truist Park in Atlanta because of voting laws in Georgia, and games are being held all in advance. Bryan, what do you think about the changes in the league this year?

Bryan Harris (09:53): Well, I think they're all good. I think one of 'em we kind of saw coming the last few years, and that was the pending change of the Cleveland Indians name. I think it's long overdue, just like the Washington football teams, formerly Washington Redskins, that name change, which I guess is still in transition, was long overdue. Same with the Indians. Look, it's something a lot of people didn't think a lot about way back when. But I think today, I mean, I think we really have to align the sports, the professional sports teams, leagues really have to align their values with the values of their fans. I mean, I know there are a lot of people who might look at the name changes for these teams and think, oh, I mess with tradition, but the world is changing and I think we have to be much more in line with what our values are today and be more respectful of all cultures.

(10:51): And the Cleveland Indians just is not an appropriate name anymore. I'm not sure it ever was. So I kind of liked before the Indians way back when they were the Cleveland Spiders, I kind of liked that name. So maybe they'll go back to the Cleveland Spiders. It would definitely make for a very cool mascot. I think as far as what happened in Atlanta and moving the All-Star game that was unexpected, but precipitated by what unfortunately has been going on in Georgia and enacting legislation to frankly discriminate against people with respect to voting laws. And what Major League Baseball is doing, I applaud because what they are saying is that the values of Major League Baseball do not align with what is happening in Georgia, and in that respect, we're going to move one of our crown jewel events to another state where we feel our values align more closely.

(11:48): A lot of people are going to say why are you getting political and you shouldn't get political, and I don't know that it's political. I think it's just a matter of putting your values first. And I really applaud Commissioner Manfred and Major League Baseball for doing that. And I think it sends a message to other states and municipalities that if you want to do business with Major League Baseball on this level and host an all-star game, your values have to align. And I think that's going to send a message also, I mean, other leagues and teams, the NBA has done that and the NFL has done it to some extent, and I think they should continue to do it because it can put pressure on state governments and on local businesses, frankly, just do the right thing, not just for baseball fans, but for our country.

AnnaRose Rubright (12:34): Do you anticipate the league having many more changes?

Bryan Harris (12:42): Oh, well, I think, yeah. I certainly think what you might see, you're going to continue, I think to see some changes to the way the game is played, as I referenced earlier, to make the game more appealing to a younger audience. We've started to see some things even this year with regard to Seven Inning double headers, which I actually kind of like. I mean, I'm a traditionalist and I'm one of those people who've kind of been resistant to change. I mean, I wasn't a fan for many, many years for the designated hitter role with the American League instituted in 1973, but I got over that after a couple of decades. And when they used it last year during the shortened season in the National League, I kind of liked it. I felt like, what if we're going to have a designated hitter role? Both leagues should have it now.

(13:31): Now they were considering ruling it out into the National League this year, but refrained from doing that. But frankly, I hope they do it moving forward because I think it's time that both leagues kind of align there. I do like the Seven Inning double headers as a Mets fan. It gives my usually leaky bullpen less time to blow a lead. So I kind of like that, but I think it just makes the game and the day go a lot easier. Sitting through two games is difficult for anybody of any age. So Seven innings Double headers certainly shave off at least an hour or so of watching. And even I, a traditionalist, I'm okay with that. I'm not crazy about the rule though, when you go into extra innings where you start the game with a runner on second base, to me, that's, I don't know, that's cheating. I just, I'm, I'm not crazy about that.

(14:23): Yeah, it does change the strategy a bit, which is interesting because if you start with a runner on second base, then guys coming up to the plate what are they going to try and do, are they going to try and get that runner home? They're not necessarily going to be swinging for the fences and end the game with a home run? You might see players actually bunting more, which is a lost art or trying to steal bases. But I think you'll continue to see some things from baseball with respect to, to rule changes, to kind of speed up the game, but in a much bigger picture with respect to aligning baseball with the values of our country, if you will. Like we've seen with the move of the All-Star game and the pending renaming of the Indians, I don't know exactly what that's going to look like, but I hope to see more things like that, where the game truly represents our values.

AnnaRose Rubright (15:16): Has Major League Baseball made changes like this in the past?

Bryan Harris (15:22): Well, with respect to, rule changes, yeah, I mentioned earlier about the, you know and they do this for competitive advantage, I suppose, but some of it is for entertainment value. I think the institution of the designated hitter back in the 1970s certainly changed a lot about the way American League teams strategized during a game when a pitcher doesn't have to hit, for example, but it added some entertainment value because you added an extra bat to the lineup, so to speak. So I got that, and it's stuck. I think a lot of people thought that it wouldn't last as long as it has and it's here to stay. Another thing that that's always fascinated me is in 1960, after the 1968 season, which has been known as the year of the pitcher, because pitchers so heavily dominated baseball that year, you had all these great pitchers back then, Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver, and Juan Marichelle and Don Drysdale and Steve Carlton, who was pitching with the Cardinals ventilator, had some great years for the Phillies.

(16:22): Pitchers really, really dominated it. So what did they do the next year? They lowered the pitcher's mound. Okay. Because when a pitcher has more height, they can generate more power throwing the ball down to the hitters. So they actually lowered the pitcher's mound starting with the 1969 season, which was pretty cool. There have been some other changes. I mean, teams all the time will move the fences in or out in their ballpark depending on whether they want to favor the pitchers or the hitters. So there's a lot of gamesmanship that goes on with the rules of the game to favor the home team or just make the game move along more quickly or favor the pitchers or the hitters. So we've seen a lot of that, and I'm sure we'll definitely see more of that.

AnnaRose Rubright (17:06): What do you envision fan participation to be like in the upcoming years?

Bryan Harris (17:11): Well, I did touch on one thing with respect to the younger fans, the Gen Z, it's really imperative that baseball get fans more engaged in participating more, whether they're watching games on television or on their iPhone or their laptop, or just staying closer to the game through social media or various platform, digital content platforms, let alone actually going out to the ballpark. So baseball goes through some ups and downs. I think it's going to be a continued challenge to get eyeballs to watch the game on television, because ratings have just been eroding for years and years and years. And you look at the World Series and the ratings, even though still better than most primetime viewing, are considerably lower than they were decades ago. The World Series as this one event that just captured everybody's attention in the country isn't quite the same as it once was.

(18:13): And I don't know what's going to change that in terms of getting people to actually watch, but getting people out to the ballparks. I think baseball and the teams have done a really good job of that in recent decades, building new ballparks, revitalizing and renovating their ballparks to make it more of a full day entertainment, family entertainment experience. Not just a place to sit down and eat a hot dog and watch a game, which I think is great, but there's a lot more you can do at a ballpark these days. So I think the ballpark experience will continue to evolve to become more and more engaging for fans. I think Major League Baseball will figure out more and more ways to reach younger audiences. One of the things they've done is through broadcasting their games on YouTube and other platforms and whatnot. And one thing I'd really like to see is just more and more of the game's top players, especially the top young stars, whether it's Fernando Tasse Jr, or Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

(19:16): Or Cody Bellinger or Jose Abre, all these great young stars. Just being more and more active on social media, getting close to the fans, whether it's through public appearances or through digital content. The game needs to encourage more and more of that. The profiles of the players, I think, have to really have to rise. When I was growing up, I mean the top players in the game, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays and Bob Gibson and Pete Rose and players like that, they had huge profiles. They were household names. They walked down the street. Everybody knew who they were. Reggie Jackson, people like that. Catfish Hunter, it's not, it hasn't been the case with baseball. The players don't have the kind of profiles that players in other sports do. Mike Trout, Mike Trout's been a guy who grew up near Philadelphia, plays for the Angels. He's been the best player in the game in the last decade.

(20:13): When all is said and done, he's going to be in the Hall of Fame regarded as one of the greatest all around players ever. But again, if he walked down the street in Midtown Manhattan or his hometown of Philadelphia, a lot of people wouldn't recognize him. And that's kind of where we are. And I think we're starting to see some young players build their profiles, but I think the game needs that. They need those household names, those players that transcend baseball like Derek Jeter did before he retired, or David Ortiz or the Red Sox. We don't have too many players like that anymore. And the game needs those players who can be the face of baseball, and that's going to be very important fan engagement over the next several years.

AnnaRose Rubright (20:56): Thank you, Bryan, for joining me today. It was a pleasure speaking with you. I hope you enjoyed the return of Major League Baseball.

Bryan Harris (21:04): Well, thank you Anna Rose. It's been a great discussion. I've really had a lot of fun. I would love to do that again maybe in a few months. And anyway, good luck to your Phillies. I, they're off to kind of a tough start, but I think the whole National League East is, it's going to be a great year, a great race, and good luck, but most of all just have fun and enjoy the season.

Narrator (21:28): Well, that wraps up this episode of Shapers of Possibility—a Taylor Podcast. To learn more about what we do at Taylor, you can find us at

Looking for more episodes of the podcast? Find us wherever you stream stuff—we’re on iTunes and other major streaming platforms. And be sure to follow us on Instagram and Twitter: at Taylor Strategy. Thanks for stopping by and tuning in. Peace.

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